Africa

Dutch hostage Sjaak Rijke freed in Mali

An image grab released by Al-Jazeera television on August 21, 2012, showing part of a video in which Dutch national Sjaak Rijke appears in an undisclosed location in Mali. Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Sjaak Rijke was kidnapped in the city of Timbuktu, along with two other men

A Dutch hostage kidnapped in Mali in 2011 has been freed by French special forces.

Sjaak Rijke was seized by gunmen from a hotel in the city of Timbuktu, along with two other men.

French President Francois Hollande said that Mr Rijke had been found by chance in a dawn raid in northern Mali.

Mr Rijke is believed have been held by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and appeared in a video by the militants in November.

He was shown alongside French hostage Serge Lazarevic, who was freed in December after a prisoner swap.

'Fantastic news'

The French defence ministry said that Mr Rijke has been transferred "safe and sound" early on Monday to a temporary base in Tessalit.

It added that a number of militants had been killed and others captured in the operation against AQIM militants.

Mr Rijke was said to be in a good condition considering the circumstances.

"This is fantastic news for Sjaak and his family. I'm happy and relieved that this terrible period of uncertainty and sadness has been brought to an end," said Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders.

The BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris says that it seems that Mr Rijke was discovered by chance.

French troops had launched a dawn attack on a militant group in northern Mali.

Our correspondent says that after the fighting was over, they realised that the group had been holding Mr Rijke.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The French military launched an operation against AQIM in January 2013

There has been no word about the fate of the other two men captured with him

A German man died in the militant attack on a hotel in Timbuktu in November 2011.

Swede Johan Gustafsson and South African Stephen Malcolm were kidnapped with Mr Rijke.

AQIM took a number of Western hostages before the French military deployed its forces in January 2013.

France has since created a counter-insurgency force of several thousand troops to track down Islamist militants in Mali.

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